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DELMAR — Students and parents are busy rehearsing and preparing the stage for “Almost, Maine,” the Bethlehem Central High School’s Theater Without a Net production which runs from Friday, Dec. 7, through Sunday, Dec. 9.
Created by playwright John Cariani, the play, which touches on love, romance, and heartbreak, is set in a quasi-fictional town called Almost, Maine, “a place that’s so far north, it’s almost not in the United States. It’s almost in Canada. And it’s not quite a town, because its residents never got around to getting organized,” according to director Giovanna Prezio.
Taking place over one wintry night, the play comprises of nine short vignettes, each of which only features two characters onstage at a time. The town’s residents fall in and out of love in comical and unexpected ways, all under the northern lights and star-studded sky.
“I chose this play because of the various roles and opportunities it has provided for our students,” wrote Prezio in an email. “There are close to 50 students involved, not only as actors and directors but as stage managers, technicians, graphic artists, photographers and videographers. A true student-driven production!”
While attending a rehearsal on Wednesday, Nov. 28, the students appeared masterful in their individual roles, making the stage seem kinetic with the constant production set moves and the rotation of actors to perform their scenes.
There was a sense of innocence as the students sometimes joked around, and even admired the unfinished paint jobs and props. But that all dissipated once it was time to rehearse their scenes, as they assumed their positions and acted out to a mostly empty theater.
Senior Sarah Marshall, who plays the character Deena, said that she was excited to join the production because “I’ve always done theater here, and I love the people, and it’s the first year that we haven’t done Shakespeare in the fall. I was really excited to work with [Ms. Prezio] who’s our new director.”
Junior Hannah Rodat-White, who plays Glory, chimed in, “I got involved with theater in my freshman year and been in all of the shows since, and I’ve loved the experience. It’s like a family, I’ve made some of my best friends ever here. This is the first show where I have more than three lines, so it’s a new and great learning experience for me, and you get more personal with the people that you read lines with, and get notes from your director.”
Both students also fondly remembered their past theater director, James Yeara, who retired in mid-2017 after teaching theater and English at the school for 32 years. Yeara had worked with all the school productions prior to his retirement.
“It was bittersweet when he left,” Marshall recalled. “I learned so much from him off and onstage. Something that I really respect about him that a lot of adults aren’t like is that he’ll tell you how it is. He’s very blunt and honestly, when you’re acting, I feel like that’s what you need.”
Rodat-White admitted that while Yeara was “intimidating at first, he helps you grow as an actor because he’s so straight up. … But Ms. Prezio is very approachable and easy to talk to, but will still give you notes to help your acting.”
Citing acting as among her passions, fellow castmate Kiley Patterson, a senior who plays Marci, saw Yeara as one of her greatest mentors and learned so much about acting from him. “He really does care about his work unlike anybody else really, so he’s incredible,” she said.
The students also appreciate the parents and behind-the-scenes crew involved with the show.
Catie VanLuven, a senior who plays Sandrine, said that she remembered the late William Morrison, who was a BCHS teacher and a key tech crew member in past productions. He passed away peacefully at his home on Oct. 5 this year at the age of 95.
“I have no idea how to do any tech whatsoever, but people don’t know how much the behind the scenes people contribute to the show,” VanLuven said. Marshall also recalled that Morrison had a light beard and glasses, and would do very well with tech and that he was overall a really nice guy.
While the students admitted they did not know Morrison too well as he often worked behind the curtain so to speak, Rodat-White highlighted certain involved parents like Andi Adamczyk, the mother of student castmate Faith Adamcyzk, who heads the costume department for the “Almost, Maine” production.
“She’s helped with all the shows so far with costumes and it’s wonderful,” Rodat-White said. “She’ll literally look at your character without reading the scene and say, ‘I know what you should wear.’”
The parents were not only praised for providing emotional support, but a positive environment as well, whenever production work gets stressful or when castmates flub their lines during rehearsals.
“Even if no one were to come to our shows, it’s like, ‘We did it. We did this,’” said VanLuven, gesturing to the props, sets and other student actors preparing onstage. “In the fall, our audience tends to be smaller just because in the spring, we do big musicals, shows and spectacles. In the fall, this isn’t necessarily something everybody has heard of. And that shows that the people, who do shows like this, really do care about what they’re doing and they’re dedicated and don’t care about whether there’ll be a huge audience.”
Some of the cast members are seniors, who see this production as among the last they could be performing in, and have started looking ahead as to what they’d like to do beyond graduation.
When asked if she intends to pursue theater as a profession, Patterson smiled, “Oh of course, of course! I’ve begun looking into many colleges like Carnegie Mellon and AMDA [The American Musical and Dramatic Academy]. They’re prestigious and kind of a reach, but I’m shooting for the stars.”
Meanwhile, Marshall admitted while she wants to continue theater in college as either a double major or a minor, she said that she did not want it to become a stressor. “Acting right now relieves stress and if that’s what I need to do to make money, that can be really stressful and take the fun out of it,” she said. “So I don’t really know what the future holds.”
But for now, Marshall and the rest of her castmates, tech and sound crew and Prezio are busy with rehearsals and finalizing the production’s vision onstage, right up to Thursday, Dec. 6, the day before opening night.
“Almost, Maine” is scheduled for performances in the high school auditorium at 700 Delaware Ave., in Delmar on Friday, Dec. 7 at 7 p.m., on Saturday, Dec. 8 at 7 p.m., and on Sunday, Dec. 9 at 2 p.m. Tickets, which will be available at the door, are $10 for adults, and $6 for students and seniors.
“Be sure to get your tickets and join us for this amusing romp through love and relationships in the small almost town of Almost, Maine,” wrote Prezio.